With what’s going on in the US right now, it’s naive to say that teams, institutions, and athletes should just stick to sports and keep their mouths shut because that narrative diminishes the scope of racism, implying that it isn’t an issue in sports (especially hockey, being a predominantly white sport) and that players are wrong in using their platform to speak out against injustice.
It’s not uncommon for the NHL or it’s member clubs to release a press statement on current events, but this is one of the first times we’ve seen players speak out by releasing their own statements.
Jonathan Toews, a three-time Stanley Cup Champion and captain of the Chicago Blackhawks posted a message to Instagram recently, speaking in the murder of George Floyd and protests against police brutality. His statement acknowledges his privilege, being a white male residing in the US, voices his support for the Black Lives Matter Movement, and also condemns racism and discrimination. Spoken with the understanding that he could never truly understand the pain and anger people of color, he stresses the need to emphasize and listen to those suppressed by racism.
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A lot of people may claim these riots and acts of destruction are a terrible response. I’ll be the first to admit that as a white male that was also my first reaction. But who am I to tell someone that their pain is not real? Especially when it is at a boiling point and impossible to hold in anymore. It’s obviously coming from a place of truth. This reaction isn’t coming out of thin air. I’m not condoning or approving the looting, but are we really going to sit here and say that peaceful protesting is the only answer? There has been plenty of time for that, and if it was the answer we would’ve given it our full attention long ago. Listen to these two men debate. They are lost, they are in pain. They strived for a better future but as they get older they realize their efforts may be futile. They don’t know the answer of how to solve this problem for the next generation of black women and men. This breaks my heart. I can’t pretend for a second that I know what it feels like to walk in a black man’s shoes. However, seeing the video of George Floyd’s death and the violent reaction across the country moved me to tears. It has pushed me to think, how much pain are black people and other minorities really feeling? What have Native American people dealt with in both Canada and US? What is it really like to grow up in their world? Where am I ignorant about the privileges that I may have that others don’t? Compassion to me is at least trying to FEEL and UNDERSTAND what someone else is going through. For just a moment maybe I can try to see the world through their eyes. Covid has been rough but it has given us the opportunity to be much less preoccupied with our busy lives. We can no longer distract ourselves from the truth of what is going on. My message isn’t for black people and what they should do going forward. My message is to white people to open our eyes and our hearts. That’s the only choice we have, otherwise this will continue. Let’s choose to fight hate and fear with love and awareness. Ask not what can you do for me, but what can I do for you? Be the one to make the first move. In the end, love conquers all. #blacklivesmatter
As usual, Toews spoke with great eloquence. His statement, posted to his 174,000 Instagram followers on Monday, has been viewed more than 200,000 times and reposted across multiple social media platforms for many more to see. Toews has proven to be a leader both on and off the ice. We applaud you, captain.
K’andre Miller, former Wisconsin Badger and recent signee for the New York Rangers, also spoke out recently about his own experience with racism in hockey. In March, after signing with the Rangers, Miller was introduced to fans on a zoom call where the chat was flooded with racial slurs. The hockey community came out to voice their love and support for K’andre, but looking back, the situation could have been handled better. I urge everyone reading to take a look at his statement below and read it for yourself.
What Miller discusses is something we all need to address. Racism exists at every level of hockey, from mini mites to the NHL, and as fans, players, coaches, staff, whatever your role is, we all need to work on improving the inclusivity of hockey and giving black athletes the support they deserve when faced with discrimination. I am very proud to have worked with K’andre Miller at the USNTDP and this past season at the University of Wisconsin. He is an excellent defenseman and I can’t wait to watch him make his mark in the NHL.
Other players including Auston Matthews, Tyler Seguin, Evander Kane, Blake Wheeler, JT Brown, and Logan Couture have spoken out on the murder of George Floyd and used their platforms to call out discrimination. Some have faced backlash; fans reply that they aren’t qualified to speak out or that they should just stick to hockey, but this issue is bigger than hockey, and hockey is not exempt from the inequalities we’re faced with.
Information about supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as other ways to get involved, can be found here: https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/
Stay safe everyone.